It's Not Just Puppy Love — 4 Things You Must Do When Your Tween Has A Crush

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two kids, age 12, walk through school, boy clearly likes the girl

Is your tween showing signs of a first crush?

Do you notice them spending more time in front of the mirror, carefully picking out just the right outfit, and doing their hair? Are they suddenly showering more often, texting with intensity, or casually dropping someone’s name in conversation with a slight blush?

Brace yourself: It’s your tween’s first crush!

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They are awash in a range of new, powerful emotions that, when combined with the hormonal surges related to puberty, might transform them into someone you barely recognize!

It’s natural for any parent to feel unsure about how to respond to these changes. You don’t want to intrude, but you do want to know if what’s going on is appropriate. It’s a delicate dance between showing up and hovering.

Being present and available to listen is what’s called for here as your tween learns to navigate the first rush of romantic feelings.

Here are 4 ways to support your tween when they have their first crush. 

1. Acknowledge their feelings and be available.

As an adult, you know that many crushes don’t become actual relationships, but your tween doesn’t feel that way or have that life experience yet. Take their feelings seriously and be supportive.

Don't tease them because they will see this as devaluing their experience.

Avoid judgments of any kind. The less your tween feels judged, the more likely they are to open up to you. And nothing is more important at this stage than having communication channels wide open between you and your child.

Stay away from micromanaging: This is their relationship. Your main job as the parent is to be available when it hits inevitable bumps and likely runs its course. 

2. Listen, listen, and listen more.

Your goal is to maintain open lines of communication. Listen to how they are feeling and what they are thinking, and ask questions that show interest but aren’t too probing.

Instead of asking directly about your child’s crush, begin a conversation with a neutral question such as, "How are things going with your friends?" or "Do you have plans for the weekend?" 

This will allow your tween to share as much as they’re comfortable with at that point. They will maintain control over the information while knowing you care.

Sometimes, it’s helpful to share some of your dating stories with your tween, but be careful about that. Ask if they would like to hear about it. Don’t offer advice unless your tween asks for it.

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3. Discuss healthy relationships. 

Talk about positive qualities in a relationship such as caring, listening, kindness, trust and respect. Brainstorm how to handle a disagreement in a healthy way.

Explain the signs of an unhealthy relationship such as bullying, manipulation, verbal insults or using force in any way. If available, encourage your child to speak with another trusted adult like a grandparent, older cousin or a close family friend.

Of course, the last thing most tweens will want to do is discuss their personal life with their parents. That’s why finding creative avenues to broach tough subjects can facilitate important conversations.

Some parents find that car rides are ideal — tweens and teens find it less awkward to talk without the need to make eye contact. Others found that kids are more comfortable chatting at bedtime when they’re cozy and relaxed — they can even talk with the lights off. 

Find what works for you and your child to stay connected and keep talking.

4. Set boundaries and establish consequences.

Talk about sexual consent and sexual activity if you haven’t already. Boundaries should include agreements about being alone with their crush, limits on screen time, expectations that responsibilities at home and school still come first, and when they can go on a one-on-one date.

Discuss consequences if your child isn’t holding up their part of these agreements. Collaboration is the best way to handle these limits, so get your tween involved in the conversation.

Remind your tween periodically about agreed-upon limits, expectations, and consequences but don’t nag them. With so much going on in their heads and their hearts, tweens often agree to something one day only to forget all about it the next.

If you notice your tween’s grades slipping and chores going undone because they’ve become absorbed by their social life, remind them of their responsibilities and follow through with consequences to which you both agreed. 

Setting limits is important, and enforcing those limits is just as critical.

Remember, your tween is going through a lot of changes all at once when they have a first crush.

It can be exciting, nerve-wracking, fun, and awkward all at the same time. Tweens already have so much to deal with, and a first crush can add a lot of big emotions into the mix. 

Stay available to your child by practicing emotional regulation and acceptance. They may well be touchy, reacting negatively to any sudden conversations or requests.

By staying centered as they ricochet among swirling hormones, shifting social dynamics, and fulfilling academic responsibilities, you’ll offer them a consistent, valuable refuge that’s free of judgment and full of loving support.

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Sharon Saline, Psy.D., is an international lecturer and workshop facilitator and has focused her work on ADHD, anxiety, learning differences and mental health challenges and their impact on school and family dynamics for over 30 years. For more information, visit her website.